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Clarke Central downs Salem on hardwood

Cameron Johnson and the Clarke Central boy’s basketball team were far too hot shooting the ball, while its pressure defense was far too harassing for Salem Tuesday.

Johnson scored 25 points and the Gladiators’ forced 27 turnovers in a 78-49 victory in Region 8-AAAAA play.

Clarke Central led by as much as 31 points, but Salem made a bit of a come back in the third quarter. While the Gladiators went nearly five minutes without a point, Austin Samuel hit two 3-pointers and Quintavius Byrd added one of his own during a 14-0 run that got the Seminoles to within 57-42 with 1:51 left in the third.

Clarke reasserted itself when after a steal by Legette - one of 19 team steals on the night - Johnson hit a runner in the lane with 1:16 to play, the team’s first points since the 6:03 mark, then added a four-point play to close the quarter.

“The frustrating thing about the turnovers is that most of them are self-inflicted,” said Salem coach Noah Harrell. “Clarke did a good job of pressuring us, but we should have been able to handle the pressure better.”

It didn’t take Clarke long to build a huge lead as the visitors from Athens shot the ball extremely well in the opening half.

Robert Baker hit a free throw to pull Salem to within 10-7 two and a half minutes into the game, but Clarke took over after that. Thanks to a 3-pointer each from Johnson, Jaquan Dowdy and Jahkiem Ellsion, the Gladiators closed the first on a 21-5 run. The spurt continued in the second quarter as Leroy Legette had six of his 16 points in the first two minutes of the period to spur a 17-0 run that gave Clarke a 41-12 cushion with 5:38 to play until halftime.

Demyon Greenwood, who had a team-high 12 points, tried to keep Salem in the game, hitting four field goals in the quarter. But Johnson and Rayshawn McCall hit consecutive 3-pointers and Donavin Thompson’s bucket sent Clarke into the locker room up 51-22.

“Clarke definitely shot the ball extremely well in the first half, but we’ve got to do a better job of getting out to shooters and defending them,” Harrell said.

It was a 57-28 game when Ellsion had a steal and a lay up at the six-minute mark, then Clarke went cold and Salem got started on its only run of the night.

Ellsion added 12 points for Clarke, while Samuel chipped in with 10 points for Salem.